Every day

It has been a little too eventful of a summer for me personally to write anything very emotional or specific just yet. Also, the past few days have been so politically charged that it seems like that's ALL one should be writing about, if one is writing, but I don't generally do that too often, because approximately one million other brilliant journalists do it so much better than I ever could. 

I did want to check in, though, with just a few words. I may have talked about this before, even multiple times, but a family friend once told me - when I was much younger - that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write every day. This is not exactly advice I've followed, unless you count, um, text messages? To do lists? Terse emails to my darling husband about scheduling conundrums?

But considering this lovely summer afternoon - and I'm talking about lovely right here, in this living room, with the golden sunlight outside, and Aidy all exhausted and watching a kids' show, laughing because it is apparently hilarious - I thought it would be a good time to publicly recommit to this excellent advice. 

I am writing a book, and I'm pretty sure the only way I will ever finish it is to write every day that I am able, even if just a little. Even if it's while the kids claw at me, demanding snacks, or early in the morning over coffee while my family sleeps, or while J puts everyone to bed, and I have to resist the temptation of mindless Twitter scrolling. I will write every day, until the project is done. 

Hungry like the (annoying, helpless) wolf

Last year, one of the goals I made was to "try a new recipe every month." I was sort of successful, the excitement dying off by about March. So, come to think of it, I wasn't very successful. 

I wish I could say that the reason I made that goal was to improve myself or expand my skill set but the real reason is that meals in our house had become a stressful state of affairs and in some ways, they still are. Everything is generally fine. The kids are healthy. They're ok but not great eaters, Nora the only one who is truly difficult, although difficult in a weird way: she loves all fruits, most vegetables and a moderate handful of healthy standards that she can't get enough of, like tomatoes and mozzarella (with good olive oil), shrimp, guacamole, sourdough bread and olives. You might think this is charming, and I am here to tell you it is only charming when you're at a mediterranean or Mexican restaurant. 

I have a general and - I believe - reasonable philosophy about food, which is that you put food on the table, and the child can eat it, or not, but that is the meal and there is not another option. In theory this works out fine, but the problem is that just getting the food prepared and on the table was taking up so much energy while also not getting done in an efficient manner. No upside. The reason for this is planning. I wasn't planning our meals because I never put aside the few moments necessary to do so, and also because meal planning is lame. 

But like many lame things, it helps. SO MUCH. I'd imagine it helps any individual, couple or family, but with three little kids and weeks that look like ours - often with every night a presenting different scenario in terms of various activities, and in terms of which child is ready to blow a gasket - planning out what we are going to eat for dinner makes everything much, much easier. Because when the evening arrives, and the kids are very urgently telling me something about "SpongeBob" and exactly how many they are going to get to watch and when, and also screaming that they are hungry, HUNNNGGGRRYYYYY! BUT NOT FOR APPLE SLICES! and the dog is carrying somebody's shoe around in her mouth (commence more screaming) I don't have to make a decision about dinner, only to find that I can't even make that decision because we don't have the ingridients necessary to do so. Which is very upsetting and is when I start thinking about ordering pizza (which, let's be clear, occurs a lot regardless of planning). 

What happens on a good week - a week in which I am prepared, like this one - is that I look at the dry erase board and am all, "HEY problem solved. That's what we are eating, and the ingridients are all here in this kitchen, because I shopped for them ahead of time, and THAT is because I planned the living hell out of this week!"*

* at least as far as dinner is concerned, otherwise: no

(yes, it's true, I am taking an adult ballet class, post upcoming)

This week, like many, we got a Blue Apron delivery - three dinners that J and I make for ourselves on nights when the kids eat before us - and there was one night I was out, so we had to work with those specifics. It took literally ten minutes of work to plan out what we'd eat and put the required items on a shopping list. And voila, it is Wednesday and no one has had toast for dinner yet this week. Yet. This week. 

List: early June 2017

  • there should be a Valium dispenser in Costco
  • there should be a special device in my home that helps get peanut butter off utensils because the dishwasher cannot handle what we are imposing upon it 
  • what in the name of god is going on in "The Leftovers?!"
  • this year I am not going to plant any tomato or other fruit or vegetable plants only to have them yield one or two tiny gems that make up 1/40th of a salad, and then feel guilty that we are never successful, even though the real reason we are never successful is that it's so shady in our backyard; we can just go to the farmer's market for the love of god (mantra, on repeat)
  • I am going to put all the laundry away
  • I am going to plan out our meals for the week
  • I am going to create a successful writing schedule
  • I am going to answer all my unanswered text messages
  • I am going to go shopping all by myself and get all the food we need for the week in a normal-sized grocery store and not have any meltdowns because I won't be faced with the question of whether or not we need a five-pound bag of pitted dates (which, spoiler alert, I did buy at Costco)

Three miles times three

Listen. I, like you - like everybody probably - finds it really annoying when people talk about running all the time. So, I apologize. But at least I am not telling you my dreams! Which is, let's all agree, the worst. I mean, would you agree, certain unnamed individual who I share a bed with, who has easy access to me first thing in the morning when I haven't even had any coffee yet for the love of all that is holy?

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I let myself slide in the running and nutrition department after the marathon in November, which was ok with me. I needed and took a break from the intensity of that schedule. And it stayed ok with me for awhile, until recently, when I remembered I'd signed up to run a half-marathon at the end of next month, and I hadn't exactly been training very well, or, you know, at all

I had run. Three miles here and there with the intention of getting back on a schedule as the date approached. But I was mostly acting cocky. I figured that all that running from several months ago was still with me. Plus all that mental stamina I'd developed would see me through. And yes, I think that's probably true to an extent. But I also think you probably shouldn't take a six-month break from regular exercise and then run 13 miles. In front of people who can see you and witness your physical state. And photograph it. 

That's why this weekend I took a look at the schedule (one of the training programs on Hal Higdon's site, which I've used every time I've run a race) and realized that I was supposed to be up to nine miles by this point. Nine. Not three, only when it's nice outside and I feel like it.

So, trusting that all that prior training would be enough to sustain me, I buckled the old running belt, loaded a podcast and set out to run 4.5 miles away from my house, hoping I'd make it back home. 

Here's the part where I go on a little tangent: the past few months have been difficult, and when I say that, I want to stress that I belive I am one of the luckiest souls on this planet, and the difficulty we've encountered recently has only strengthened this assertion. That being said, life has been more challenging lately. This year J and I are less able than we have been in the past to rally and remain upbeat about his ongoing job search. We are more concerned with trappings of domestic life that we used to treat more breezily: getting the kids into the right, or at the very least, the same school and the fact that we've outgrown our adorable little house. My father has had some serious health issues, which has been scary and stressful (but incredibly heartening, too, witnessing the outpouring of support and optimism from friends and family). 

Anyway, I went for that run. And while I was running, I thought about this great thing that my friend Carole said, which I've thought about a lot. She once said that she started long distance running because it provided definitive results in a world of uncertainty (she, like J, is a scientist, and was talking about how unpredictable life in the lab can be, as you plot experiments and hope for the best). Carole said that she liked it that you could steadily train for a race and your body would respond the way it was supposed to. You just followed the directions, and it would work.

Because I did all that marathon training back in the fall, my body was still in enough shape that I could do that nine-mile run this weekend. In fact, I felt really good. And to be able to break out this definitive physical skill that I've developed during what's been a rather uncertain time felt really good, too. I'm planning on sticking to the schedule from here on out, even if it means breaking away from the political headlines I'm glued to every single morning so I can get out and pound the pavement. Thank god for the 24-hour cable news cycle, am I right? 

1, 2, 3: we are not losing our shit anymore

One of the the things I've mentioned on this blog and in other writing and, if I know you, a lot in conversation, is that Gabriel can be kind diffcult to deal with. It started shortly after Aidy was born, which made a lot of sense, and then continued with no end in sight, which made less sense to us. 

He's challenging in that he meets every decision, change of schedule and suggestion with at least mild displeasure, and sometimes all-out war. For example, this morning I suggested he wear shorts and a t-shirt because it was going to be so hot. Picking the shorts was no problem. He chose the black, soft ones obviously. But picking the shirt proved to be a problem. I think because he hadn't worn many of his short-sleeved shirts since last year, and some of them were totally new so he hadn't worn them at all. So the thought of getting back into a comfortable relationship with one of these shirts at that hour of the morning was simply too much. He cried and yelled and wandered around the house with his pajama top on, and I followed him around with a death grip on my coffee mug until we came to a decision. 

One of the delights J and I have had the chance to experience this year is watching Gabe go to kindergarten, and excel in every single way possible. He can read, he does math problems for fun and he wins his school behavior award every month. I know parents are always saying how their kids are angels at school and poorly behaved at home, but I want to be clear our situation is different. That the disparity between the school-Gabriel and the home-Gabriel is out of control ridiculous. Behavior award every month vs. I wouldn't let him eat that Hershey's mini chocolate bar he found the other day with his breakfast, and so screamed and basically tried to pick up our furniture and throw it. 

Still, this year has been nice, because it's clear that he's a normal, great kid, who - yes - can be challenging when he's middle child-ing it at home, but is absolutely crushing kindergarten. Everybody likes it when their child is doing well at school and we're really proud of him, even when we are flabbergasted. At the most recent report card conferences, Gabe's teacher told us how much the other kids enjoy playing with him, because he is, "so kind," and I immediately texted my mom and mother-in-law to tell them because it was so hilarious. 

Gabe was clearly ready for kindergarten, and happy to have his own group of friends; I think the whole experience has been really helpful for him. But the other thing that's completely changed the way we react to his behavior (from running in terror and/or crying and/or screaming and/or Googling "middle child syndrome real?" to handling his tantrums more gracefully) is the book 1-2-3 Magic, which, by the way, I have in no way been asked to push here, it just honestly helped us, and that's why I'm bringing it up.

I'd heard of the book before, but we didn't get it until we went to a therapist who recommended we try it and a few techniques. That's right. We went to a therapist because we couldn't handle our son. I'm here to tell you, parents, that this is a thing you can do. You can call up a professional who will tell you how to be a better mom or dad. We only went to see our therapist twice - it was all we needed - and I'm so glad we did. 

The technique outlined in the book is beyond simple. When there's bad behavior, your child gets warnings: first one, then two and then if they don't stop by three, they get a time out or a privlege or toy taken away. This worked really well for us, but also for Gabe, because there was a clear set of expectations that had really been lacking before. When he was bad, maybe we'd punish him or maybe we'd lay our heads in our hands and open a bottle of wine, ANYBODY'S GUESS. 

Now we have a plan, and - most of the time, but obviously not all, who do you think we are? - we adhere to that plan, calmly counting the kids' bad behavior (you won't be surprised to hear that Gabe is the main recipient of this method, but we use it across the board to be fair) instead of blowing up out of sheer frustration. 

It's much better, and worth it, even though Aidy (aka Regina George) has taken up using the method on us in her more fiesty moments. Like yesterday, when the poor girl was woken from a deep car nap upon arriving home, and told me that I was "bad and a stinky mommy, and you're gonna go in a time out, you ARE, and YOU'RE GONNA CRY!"